School’s almost out for summer, and the students (and their teachers!) have been counting down the days until they can sleep in on the weekdays and unwind a little after a long year. Because my husband and I are both teachers, on those days that we aren’t still working in some capacity (believe me, teachers do not have the full summer off, despite misconceptions), our summers are usually jam-packed with projects we couldn’t get to during the school year, barbecues and travel. Some travel is work-related, while others are short getaways, so I have learned some ways to save some money on travel because we certainly want to take advantage of our summer vacations throughout the years, and travel just isn’t cheap!
Tip #1: Drive!
I know it’s not always possible to drive, besides the obvious overseas reason, but it can certainly save money. When you consider average domestic air travel for a family of 4 is over $1200, current gas prices to travel by car is a fraction of that. Plus you can be on your own schedule and pack as much as you can fit into your car and not have to worry about baggage fees on top of it! We pack lots of things for our boys to do, like fully-charged Kindles, a portable DVD player, coloring books, action figures, etc. And really, they do pretty well in the car. Sometimes, they’ll even nap!
Of course, we also pack a lot of snacks, and you can easily pack a cooler with sandwiches and other lunch items to save money on food. I tend to search out a McDonald’s on the way with a PlayPlace (you can search this on their website!) so the kids have a chance to burn off some energy, but you could stop at a rest area and have a picnic to let the kids run around. We’ve been to a few really nice rest areas that have fun playgrounds. Besides saving money, driving gives you and the family an opportunity to really see how awesome our country is as the landscape changes in each area. You can also plan fun little pit stops along the way, such as standing in two different states at once, like we did in Texarkana!
Tip #2: Shop around!
The hotel cost is probably the biggest expense of a trip when you travel (if you drive instead of fly), and you probably won’t spend tons of time in your hotel, so why spend a fortune? If you shop around and take your time, you can save a lot of money. If you aren’t concerned about hotel brand or exact location, check out Priceline.com or Hotwire.com for really good deals in bigger cities. I usually use the Priceline Express Deals option because you can still pick out the star level (really can’t go wrong with 3 star and above), some amenities that you’d like, as well as a general area. The catch can be that you may only get a room with one bed, though most of the time I have asked for two beds at check-in and get it, and some of the hotel options also have an option for a bed choice, so you can pick two beds at booking. We haven’t been disappointed by using a discount website.
If you prefer to pick your own hotel brand, it can pay to be brand loyal. Most hotel chains have good reward clubs you can join to earn points on hotel stays to redeem for free nights, as well as other perks, like lower rates, free internet or room upgrades. Plus most brands also have some sort of low rate guarantee that if you book on their website and find a cheaper rate on any other site within 24 hours of booking, they’ll match it, and beat it with an additional discount or perk. When we book at a hotel brand, we love to look for hotels with free breakfast and wifi, plus when possible, we stay in rooms that are more apartment-style and have a kitchenette to save money on some meals, as well as a separate bedroom for mom and dad to sleep with a pull-out sofa for the boys. That way, we aren’t all forced to go to bed at the boy’s bedtime! Some hotels even offer evening social hours on weeknights with free snacks and beverages! One hotel we stayed at had pizzas and appetizers that could be a full meal, plus free wine and beer for the adults!
- Activities and Attractions
While you are checking out hotels, see if the hotel partners with popular attractions for discount tickets. Sometimes, all you have to do is ask at the front desk! If you are looking at a resort kind of hotel, be sure you check out their specials pages for package deals. For a quick getaway, we usually try to do a one or two day trip to Burlington for Fun City, and they always have some awesome deals on their website.
Be sure to check out the websites of places you want to visit. Many places offer discounts if you purchase tickets ahead of time, plus this often saves you time once you get there! Some places offer discount days or free days (though be prepared for it to be extra busy then). Check out Groupon or Living Social for deals, but be sure to check fine print! If you plan on doing several activities in a bigger city, look into CityPASS or GoCard to see if you can save some money with a bundle package. Also check websites for special events. Over Christmas break, we planned to go to Medieval Times in Schaumburg and they happened to be doing a special event that kids got to go out in the arena to learn to be a knight for free on certain days and times, so I was glad I browsed their website so I could book the right time!
Of course also look for any free activities! Sometimes just walking through a downtown is fun just to see cool architecture or historical places, like walking Beale Street in Memphis.
Even doing a Google search of “free family activities” with the city name often will lead you to places you didn’t even know about! We usually visit Chicago once a summer for a quick trip and one of the boys’ favorite places to go is Maggie Daley Park in downtown Chicago, and it is awesome and free!
Tip #3: Splurge on Some Meals
As already mentioned, you can certainly save money by booking a hotel with free breakfast and/or snack hours, packing a cooler or getting a room with a kitchenette or at least a mini-fridge. But one of our favorite parts of traveling is trying out local cuisine, so we try to build in plenty of money for some nice meals! Though not a money-saving tip, this is one tip I love to share for travel: We always check out TV Food Maps to find places featured on TV shows like Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. One year, on our way home from Texas, we even made a little detour through Kansas City, MO to go to a BBQ place that we enjoyed from the previous summer that was featured on DDD. We would have never even known this place existed otherwise. As you can see, my husband really loved it.
Check out menus in advance and see if you can save money by going at lunch hour as opposed to dinner or to happy hour for cheaper appetizers or drinks. Sometimes we’ll eat the free hotel breakfast, eat a big late lunch and just have something small for dinner. Check out Groupon or LivingSocial for restaurant deals. Sometimes you can find hot spots, but often they are more off the beaten path kind of restaurants, so sometimes it’s worth checking out Yelp for reviews before purchasing!
Traveling is certainly expensive, but it is something we love to do, so we do what we can to bring the cost down a little. We know there will be trips where we will splurge a little more, but I still will search out the best deals possible to save money! Share your money-saving travel tips with us!